Big Ten Baseball Begins Conference Play This Weekend
March 29, 2007
Big Ten baseball opens its conference schedule this weekend as Purdue hosts Illinois, Indiana takes on Michigan State, Ohio State battles Iowa, Northwestern welcomes Michigan, and Minnesota travels to Penn State.
Ohio State enters the Big Ten portion of its schedule atop the conference standings with a 14-3 record, including a 13-game winning streak. The Buckeyes own a No. 29 ranking in the National College Baseball Writers Association poll, marking the conference's first top-30 appearance all season. The Buckeyes' opponent, Iowa, boasts a .667 winning percentage (10-5), which is the team's highest winning percentage heading into Big Ten play in 15 years. Iowa is led by Dusty Napoleon's .415 average and conference-best 28 RBI, as well as reliever Mike Schurz, the conference's Pitcher of the Week.
Minnesota leads the conference with 15 wins, including 12 in the month of March, which marks a team best since the squad went 13-3 in 1997. Minnesota's Mike Mee fronts the Big Ten with a .479 average and leads his squad into Penn State's brand-new facility, Medlar Field at Lubrano Park. Penn State is 4-13 on the season but has won two of its last three games in its first series on its new diamond. Craig Clark, who is slated for the series opener, leads the Lions with a 2.65 ERA and is holding opponents to a .246 batting average.
Last year's Big Ten Champion, Michigan, opens its season on the road as it heads to Evanston, Ill., for four games with last year's runner-up Northwestern. The Wolverines are the second-best pitching squad in the conference with a 3.62 team ERA and also boast offensive power as shortstop Jason Christian leads the team with a .403 average and a .627 slugging percentage. The Wildcats are riding a three-game winning streak - their longest of the season - and have won four of their last five. Jake Owens is the team's hottest hitter as he batted .412 with nine RBI over the team's eight-game Spring Break trip.
Indiana hosts Michigan State in a battle of two evenly matched teams as the Hoosiers ended their non-conference schedule with a 10-8 record while the Spartans sit at 8-8. Indiana has won its last six contests including a 4-0 shutout over IPFW on Wednesday. During that win streak, the Hoosiers are batting .323 while allowing opponents to hit just .248. The Spartans are winners of their last two as they climbed back to the .500 mark on Wednesday with a 5-3 victory over Bowling Green. MSU's Craig Brookes leads the Big Ten in pitching with a 1.01 ERA spanning 26.2 innings of work.
Rounding out the opening weekend of conference play, Illinois brings its 7-9 record into West Lafayette to take on Purdue (10-8). The Boilermakers snapped a four-game losing streak on Wednesday with a 12-4 win over Ball State. Ryan White led Purdue with a 3-for-4 performance at the plate and is fourth in the conference with a .438 batting average. Illinois dropped its last contest, a 4-0 decision to Indiana State, but boasts two of the Big Ten's leading hitters in Lars Davis (4.78 avg.) and Kyle Hudson (.462). Davis is the reigning Big Ten Player of the Week.